Minus 24

Minus 24

The usually well-publicized Melges 24 circuit has gone strangely quiet this month, and we just realized why:  Only 22 boats are registered for this weekend’s Melges 24 US National Championship.  That’s right:  Twenty-two Melges 24s on San Francisco Bay, where only a few years ago 20 boats would come out for local events, and where Team Pegasus once thrived, innovating in ways that would change the class forever.

There are a lot of obvious reasons for this embarrassing turnout, which makes even the 60-boat 2007 Worlds showing look strong.   The organizers and Class would have you believe that it is 100% due to the economy, though that’s never the whole story.  It’s much of it, but at some point the blame must be shifted from an inanimate concept to those who refuse to adapt to it.  Perhaps a year into the crisis is long enough for that to happen.

It doesn’t take a genius to realize that San Francisco isn’t the smartest place to hold a national championship of any kind in this economy.  Nor does it take much thought to realize that Northern California is a long, long way from Annapolis, where most traveling boats in the US are already sitting, ready for the October Worlds – and it ain’t cheap to move anything from Annapolis to San Francisco.  But where are the Seattle sailors, with their 20+ boat fleet?  That’s just 6 or 8 hours away (more like 15 – ed), and surely the SF crowd would help find housing for the Puget Sound crowd to make it affordable…but there is only one Seattle boat registered.  Where are the incentives?  Where are the usually strong USMCA promotions?  Dues are surely down, which cuts the costs available for perennial class pimp Joy Dunigan, but what about Melges, and what about the usual army of volunteers at the StFYC?  It’s all a bit bizarre.

M24 owner, St. Francis member, and former SCOTW Kristen Lane has been helping to promote Nationals.   We asked her for her take on things.

“I think it is a sign of the times, and people who love one-design racing are really going to need to make an effort to keep the kind of travel scene we’re used to going,” Lane said.  She also thinks that the scheduling needs to be thought of differently.  “At the moment, the West Coast gets an occasional big regatta to try to balance things out with the stronger East Coast fleets, but maybe we need to look at it longer term, to allow people to minimize their transportation costs, which can be really substantial when you’re talking East Coast to West Coast and back,” she said.

In truth, people have gotten so used to the excellent Southeast and Midwest circuit, and tearing them away from it for a California swing is just too much – especially in a Worlds year on the East Coast.  The West Coast should simply have been ditched in 2009.  After all, the Class went out of their way to hold the ’07 World in Santa Cruz, and the area’s fleet has done nothing but decline since. 

“We all need to face reality,” Lane said.  “And reality is that every racer is going to have an awesome time.”

We asked her why.

“I guarantee that there will be tons of wind, flat water, awesome RC work, the kind of great social events that St. Francis is known for, some of the very best teams in the world; we even just got a great new sponsor that roasts some of the best coffee I’ve ever had.  What more could you ask for?”

Besides a few more boats and a class schedule that makes a lot more sense…not much. 

We will have reports and pics after the event.  We expect Dave Ullman, sailing with most of the excellent crew from Alan Field’s WTF, to win this one easily.